adiha Arsalan’s collection of her English poems Bhadoon brings its readers closer to a new and fresh sensibility, portraying contemporary patterns of English poetry in Pakistan. Her poems are simple but subtle; direct but multi-layered; and personal but reflections on what is happening in Pakistani society.
I had read Madiha Arsalan’s articles in national English dailies before delving into her poetry. Her prose is a fine blend of knowledge, style and sensibility that keeps the reader glued to the text till the end. I found it amazing on account of its vocabulary, craft and imagery. In an eloquent style, the carefully crafted verses reveal the inner selves of human beings and illuminate various aspects of passion, desire, love, relationships and hope to see a better world.
Bhadoon reminds me of what Milan Kundera said about poetry: “The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.”
Her poems evoke emotions by narrating multisensory experiences of love, desire, sadness, and hope. The imagery appeals to our senses of sight, rhythm and sound. The similes and metaphors she uses combine several senses and create unique cognitive and emotional responses to her verses. For example, her poem, I Found Myself in Loveliness, reflects a delicate emotional expression and keeps the reader exploring its complexity. It is woven between senses, body, feelings, thoughts and the external environment. It draws attention to details and holds readers’ imagination.
I am unsure
I feel so close
And yet so distant
When you are all around
Aroma of you surrounds
Respite from life
The most crucial aspect of Arsalan’s poetry is its powerful and lucid imagery that alludes to diverse and distinctive meanings. She paints scenes that brings her subjects to life with a vibrancy that touches the readers’ hearts. She plots various aspects of life to evoke different thoughts, exploring hidden layers of relationships and society.
Arslan uses impressive, accurate and exciting language. She adopts a descriptive and vivid style, using words chosen as often for their sound as for a shade of meaning.
With an eloquent style, her carefully crafted verses reveal the inner selves of human beings and illuminate deeper aspects of passion, desire, love, relationships and hope to see a better world.
It is interesting to note that Arslan liberally uses local vocabulary and refers to local places, festivals and rituals in her poetry, like Bhadoon, kamli, rut, malang, mannat, mohafiz, rangoli, Toor and shab-i-yalda. The way she uses these words ensures that these do not feel alien to the text; instead, they play a pivotal role in enriching and indigenising the language.
Most of the poems in Bhadoon revolve around family, relationships, personal and social life, redemption and courage. The poems seem direct in expression; however, gradually, they lead one towards a finer understanding of her poetry, revealing the personal dilemmas of individuals living in a world without hope. The poems mainly show the complexities of relationships and their various dimensions. The poetry reveals the paradoxes of love, longing, passion, sadness, care and pride and how those are linked in a single emotion of love and desire. Her verses reflect a permanent dialogue between desire and curtailment; passion and patience; and stability and freedom. Her poem, Kamli beautifully reflects these complex emotions:
“…Butterfly brutally fluttering in my breast,
I am buzzing in the woods
Croaking in the moors
Forgotten who I am
Kamli at your door …”
Love is a recurring motif in Arslan’s poetry. The affection narrated here is sometimes abstract and sometimes too direct and obvious. It goes straight to the heart of the matter, reflecting a red-hot passion for being in someone’s thoughts, to be acknowledged and to be loved. Her most touching poems about love are, I Am Abashed Whenever I See My Love, Homesick, I See My Love, Debt and Kamli.
With a unique feminine expression, the poems in Bhadoon express the voice of a woman speaking out loud for her identity and her tender emotions. It is important to emphasise here that these poems neither reflect a woman’s traditional submission to the patriarchy nor are loaded and overwhelmed with some clichéd jargon. The poems reflect the situation of a woman who expresses her love without being influenced by any ideology or inhibition.
In addition to her favourite themes of relationships and love, Arslan’s poems reflect on social issues: the injustice around us, the degradation of the environment, the cities collapsing under their weight and a desire to see a peaceful and prosperous world. Put Me to Death and many other poems reflect a strong desire for a free, just, and violence- and poverty-free society. Ode to the Elephants, Four Nights Three Days, Me, You And Paddy Fields, Children of God, Musings… and Long Live Pakistan vividly explain the situation of Pakistani society, its eroding values and vanishing hopes. Despite having a very strong emotional appeal, the worldview is stoic.
It’s a pleasure to read Madiha’s poetry; it has strong statements, subject matter and themes, explicit settings and a woman’s voice. The woman wants to make people recognise her true self and being. The poems focus more on suggesting an idea or an image than making prosaic statements. These carry a delicate rhythm and the choice of language to convey her point is skilful. The poems have a balanced structure, form, syntax, figurative language and simple but subtle diction.
Bhadoon: A collection of poems by Madiha Arsalan
Author: Madiha Arslan
Publisher: Ferozsons (Pvt.) Ltd, 2023
Pages: 188, Paperback
The reviewer is a novelist and a translator. He may be reached at arshad.wahedgmail.com